Guest Post: Technology can help trains displace cars for convenience

Guest Post: Technology can help trains displace cars for convenience

Mobility as a Service offers a choice of transport at the press of a button, says Karhoo VP Business Development Caroline Simmerman

Mobility as a Service offers a choice of transport at the press of a button, says Karhoo VP Business Development Caroline Simmerman

I would love to take the train to work. The thought of not being stuck in traffic every day, of lowering my carbon footprint and of being able to watch Bake Off on my phone as I travel really does fill me with joy!

However, unfortunately twice a day, five days a week, I choose instead to embark on the two-hour journey to and from work in my car.

Why is this? I have tried taking the train to work. The experience involves me driving for 25 minutes to the station. I then have to find a spot to leave my car in the dodgy yet highly priced and very busy car park. The train could be delayed.

When I get off on the other side, I have to book a taxi and wait for it to arrive. Due to possible train delays, pre-booking isn’t possible. If I don’t book, I have to wait in the taxi rank queue which has taken up to 30 minutes in the past. I then have to repeat these steps on the return journey. The idea of doing this every day does not fill me with joy to say the least.

There are so many variables in that journey which could result in me being late. Like many others who work in the city, my job is demanding enough without having to worry about how I get there.

That’s why I reluctantly choose to drive. Factoring in traffic, I know exactly how long the journey takes. I know I won’t be standing around waiting for a taxi in the rain. I know if I leave work at 5:30pm I’ll be home in time for my gym class. The only variables in me making it to spin are my own timekeeping and motivation!

I’m not on my own in thinking this way. The world today is more environmentally conscious than ever before. Most people are prepared to accept slight inconvenience if they know it’s better for the planet. That’s why we all now drink cocktails with paper straws that get soggy in our mouths. But the experience can’t be such an inconvenience that it becomes a total put-off.

In this way, the biggest competitor to trains are undoubtedly private cars. Trains simply can’t compete with the private car’s ability to take you from your front door to your final destination. Or at least it couldn’t until now.

The burgeoning concept of Mobility as a Service (MaaS) offers solutions in this area. Often touted as the movement away from private car ownership, MaaS will take us to a system where we choose our transport depending on our specific needs and preferences. Whether we want to cycle, take the train, or book a high-end taxi, or a combination of all of these, the choice will be ours at the press of a button.

Innovative rail companies across Europe are already taking advantage of this. In Spain, the national rail operator Renfe has already began transitioning into a MaaS provider. While booking their ticket on their MaaS app, Renfe’s passengers are now able to choose between transport options including buses, taxis and bikes to complete their journey. As it is all connected on one platform, if the train is delayed, the connecting transport provider is updated in real time ensuring seamless journey transitions. In this way it takes the positives of both pre-booked and on-demand transport.

Currently in its pilot phase, once fully rolled out across the country Spanish train passengers will have a complete door-to-door service. Even in rural areas. This is because Renfe has integrated with taxi platforms which onboard fleets in cities and towns across the country.

Similar projects are being rolled out across Europe, surely the UK will follow. The technology is ready. As demonstrated in Spain, transport providers are prepared and ready to integrate their platforms. It is simply up to the train companies to take advantage. If they don’t, they will continue to play second fiddle to the car.

If this tech was adopted across the UK, I and other commuters would be able to leave our cars at home every day. We wouldn’t have to worry about the impact on the planet and our bank accounts of filling our vehicles up with petrol several times a week. We wouldn’t have to worry about booking a taxi the moment the train arrives at the station.  I’d be able to take the train without worrying about the dodgy car park.

In the next five years, it should be possible for everyone living in places like High Wycombe and working in the city to not just think of the train as an option they can stomach, but as the preferred choice. After all, if we all got to watch Bake Off on our way to work, the world would be a much happier place.